Civil Service Commission publishes Extended Ministerial Office guidance

The Civil Service Commission has published the rules under which individuals can be appointed as civil servants providing support in Extended Ministerial Offices (EMOs). The rules, welcomed by the FDA trade union, set out a number of safeguards designed to ensure that appointments do not compromise the independence of the civil service.

By Suzannah.Brecknell

21 Nov 2013

The government proposed the creation of EMOs in order to increase the amount of support available to ministers. The Civil Service Reform One Year On report, published in July, said that the EMOs “could comprise existing civil servants fulfilling the traditional private office role, special advisors and external appointees. Members of the office would be personally appointed by the minister and be directly accountable to them.”

However, the commission's rules make these appointees accountable to civil servants, and constrain ministers' ability to make personal appointments. Civil service commissioner Sir David Normington (pictured above) will have a veto on the appointment of party activists.

The new rules apply where an individual is appointed to an EMO from outside the civil service “without a fair and open competition, or where a minister is involved personally in the selection of those individuals”.

Under the commission's rules, individuals appointed to the civil service under these rules will be on a non-renewable, fixed-term contract of up to five years. They must be managed by another civil servant – not the minister – and must fulfill a specific role in the EMO, bringing “particular experience, expertise or knowledge that is not currently available within the civil service”. They may not transfer to another role in the civil service without going through an externally advertised competition.

The Civil Service Commission, headed by Sir David Normington, will have to give express approval for the appointment of individuals who have worked for the minister, a party colleague or the minister’s political party within the last five years, and for appointments to senior posts.

Departmental permanent secretaries will also be required to confirm each year, in the annual compliance statement sent to the commission, that the “role and individual are still needed and the individual continues to operate in line with the Civil Service Code”.

The Cabinet Office has not yet published its own guidance on EMOs, but a spokesperson said this is expected to be published shortly.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman told CSW that the process set out by the commission has “resolved quite a number” of concerns which the union had about the proposed EMOs.

The appointment process outlined by the commission, he said, strikes a good “balance between the demands of ministers for greater support and the necessity to have that political objectivity that's at the core of the civil service.”

“It doesn't stop people going beyond the rules or going beyond the intent,” he added, “but what you have is a clear set of guidelines that allows you to police that.”

Stephen Ibbotson, director of business at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)


What do you think the public sector does well?

I think the cost savings achieved have been very impressive. A lot of that has come from reducing services, but a big part is also down to re-organising back office functions, combining things and reducing administrative burdens.

What would attract you to and deter you from applying for a job in the civil service?

I would be attracted by the ability to make real change; because it’s not just about profit, you can change things that directly affect people’s lives. Equally, I would be put off by some of my colleagues’ experiences: they applied and were rejected at the last interview stage because they didn’t have any public sector experience. Why would I waste my time if they’re not going to appoint anyone without prior public sector experience? I would also be wary about my limited ability to change things. I could end up in a position where I have lots of new ideas but would not be able to drive them forward because people are resistant; not just the people you work for, but the rest of the organisation. I would only be a relatively small part of a big organisation.

What prejudices and expectations might people in your industry have of an experienced and qualified civil servant seeking work in the field?

They would think that the civil servant would lack flexibility, because they’re used to doing things in a certain way. And from my own experience working with former civil servants, they often lack commercial awareness: the ability to look at the bigger picture and assess all the commercial implications, and therefore the commercial benefit.

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